Garrett Marrero of Maui Brewing Company: Anything not made by Gordon-Biersch right now.
For the full transcript of the interview that the above quote comes from, click here. There’s some great stuff in there about the “rivalry” between Maui and Kona in Hawaii (Garrett does NOT look too highly on his “local” competitor). Maui is a great little brewery that does Hawaii proud. Their CoCoNut Porter is just plain delicious and their Big Swell IPA is a solid representation of the style.
But the reason I quoted the interview has less to do with Maui Brewing and more to do with Garrett’s response to what his favorite non-Maui beer was. Anyone that has listened to our recent All Beers Considered Podcasts has heard the sad little tale of Gordon-Biersch vs. Oskar Blues. In a nutshell, Gordon-Biersch has forced Oskar Blues to change the name of their incredibly tasty Gordon Imperial Red Ale because they believe it infringes on their trademark rights. I should point out that the Gordon is named for Gordon Knight, a Vietnam veteran who heroically died fighting forest fires in Colorado. I should also point out that the Gordon is canned (GB beers are not), has a label and graphics that couldn’t possibly be confused for a Gordon-Biersch product, and tastes about 1,000 times better than any pint of monkeypiss brewed by GB. In other words, there really doesn’t seem to be any chance of consumers being confused by products released by these two respective companies.
Nevertheless, legally Gordon-Biersch has the upper hand. Oskar Blues had opportunities to trademark the name and failed to do so and there was apparently an unspoken deal that they could keep the name unless they started selling in GB’s area of distribution. With Oskar Blues’ recent explosive growth, they have crossed into the neutral zone and Gordon-Biersch apparently decided they had to respond by forcing the beer to be renamed G’Knight.*
*Note: I’d be angrier about this, but I actually kind of think G’Knight is a cooler name than Gordon. It’s particularly appropriate after you crush a four-pack of the 8.7%-ABV beer. G’night!!!
If you listened to our Podcasts, and read the above paragraphs, you probably have a good idea of whose side we’re on. But we’re just bloggers…our job is to become apoplectic about minor things. So it was nice to read this interview with Garrett Marero…a brewer who I assume does not really compete with Gordon-Biersch and has no other reason to have a beef with the company…and see that he finds the whole thing distasteful as well.
To folks on the outside (like the Aleheads), craft brewing has always seemed like a strangely friendly industry. Brewers seem to bend over backwards to help each other. They seem to love to collaborate with each other and help their competitors grow. Contract brewing is the ultimate example of this. In what other industry would a company actually create products for a competitor just to help them grow their business? Look at the Terrapin Beer Company in Georgia. For years, all of their beers were brewed by Flying Dog in Maryland. Sure, Flying Dog was paid for their services, but unless you looked closely at the bottle, you would have just assumed that Terrapin was making the beer themselves. Flying Dog got no marketing or PR boost for helping them. In the meantime, the Terrapin brand was growing and presumably cutting into Flying Dog’s bottom line. Eventually Terrapin was able to open their own brewery and now they compete on equal footing with the company that basically got them off the ground and helped turn them into a darling of the craft beer world. It makes no business sense…but it’s one of the reasons the industry is so great.
Perhaps it’s because all craft brewers are making beer in the shadow of the macros (BudMillerCoors). They know that petty squabbling, in-fighting, and brinksmanship will only lead to losses for them and their peers and gains for the big boys. So they help each other when they can. When there are hop shortages, they share ingredients with each other. They bond at beer judging contests. Brewers visit each other, trade secrets, brew collaboration beers together (a huge trend these days), and generally maintain highly respectful, cordial relationships. And that anti-cutthroat approach seems to be working. The industry has grown in leaps and bounds and has been a remarkable success story in a difficult economic time.
That’s what makes the Gordon-Biersch story so sad. The brewery was founded in 1988 by Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch and was well-regarded for producing solid versions of traditional German brews. In 1999 the company was sold to CraftWorks, an umbrella company that also runs the Rock Bottom Restaurant chain, the Old Chicago chain, and something called Sing Sing Dueling Pianos (among others).
Naturally, the brewery lost a lot of cachet in the craft beer industry when they sold out to a chain restaurant conglomerate. I can’t say I ever enjoyed anything they made, but for the most part I thought of the company as just another crappy brewpub chain. But with the Gordon situation, I have started to actively dislike Gordon-Biersch…and it appears that I’m not alone. Here’s what Garrett Marero said after the quote at the top of the post:
Craft beer is about sticking together; you know “collaboration not litigation”. It’s sad to see [Gordon-Biersch has] gotten so big they’ve lost the brotherhood of craft beer, it’d be different if Gordon-Biersch made a beer called “Gordon” but they don’t.
The “brotherhood of craft beer”…I like that. Now I’ll grant you that there’s probably more of this corporate pushing and shoving behind the scenes than most of us realize. These are still businesses trying to survive and thrive after all. But I think it’s telling that when one company breaks an unwritten rule about collaboration and cooperation in the industry, other companies push back. In the craft beer world, it seems like a rising tide has lifted all the boats and Gordon-Biersch is trying to drill a hole into its neighbors hull. I suspect other breweries feel the same as Maui…and that GB will soon face repercussions amongst its peers. From my end, I won’t buy a GB product every again. This shouldn’t hurt their bottom line since I haven’t consumed one of their beers in 5 years. But if other craft beer enthusiasts begin to catch wind of this story (and that seems to be happening), this little legal tussle between Gordon-Biersch and Oskar Blues could be the worst PR move the company could ever have dreamed up. I just hope that the Beer Gods are watching and that ten years from now, Oskar Blues will still be showing record growth while Gordon-Biersch will just be a footnote in the brewing world.
While we’re on the subject, you’ll note that in Garrett Marero’s quote, he used the phrase “collaboration not litigation”. This phrase was made popular in the industry when Avery Brewing Company and Russian River Brewing Company both realized they made a beer called “Salvation”. Instead of suing one another over the rights, they decided to serve as examples for the rest of the industry. They combined batches of the two beers, bottled the hybrid brew, and sold it as a beer called “Collaboration Not Litigation”. Wifey and I tucked into a bomber the other night. As you might expect from a brew of that pedigree, it was absolutely delicious.
NOTES: Bomber @ McHops Monastery
STYLE: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 8.72% (I know it’s a weird number, but I assume it’s because the two beers combined to create this one had different ABVs)
APPEARANCE: Murky amber color with glowing, gold highlights
HEAD: Short, bright white head that fades appropriately
LACING: Moderate, sticky lace on the top of the glass
NOSE: Dark stone fruits, clove and cinnamon spice, rich caramel malt, and a faint whiff of alcohol.
TASTE: A malty, molasses sweetness washes over your tongue immediately, but is quickly replaced by a beautiful, funky sour flavor like an Oud Bruin. The finish is fruity with a hint of spice and a little warmth from the booze.
MOUTHFEEL: Medium-bodied…not heavily carbonated and a little sticky.
DRINKABILITY: Wifey and I both really enjoyed this one. Great balance and wonderful flavors. Nothing overpowering or cloying. I could have easily tossed back another bomber.
RATING: 3.5 Hops. Take a good look at this beer, Gordon-Biersch. You can make beautiful music with other breweries if you just stop acting like a complete dick.